(bright music) - [Narrator] Think about the last time you drove down a street in the US.
You probably didn't have this nice of a view.
At best, American streets are forgettable, at worst, they're deadly, but surprisingly, some Americans are at higher risk than others.
In the US, Black pedestrians are struck and killed by drivers at an 82% higher rate than white pedestrians.
And here in Atlanta, Georgia, the number of pedestrian fatalities is twice the national average.
Living in poorer neighborhoods without sidewalks, bike lanes, and crosswalks increases your chances of getting hit.
That's why the City of Atlanta is trying to make one street a little more livable, so people have an example of what streets could be like, if we prioritized safety over cars.
In many US cities, cars are a nearly essential part of life.
And there is no better example than Atlanta, Georgia.
The streets in Atlanta are made for automobiles.
In a sprawling city like this, it's hard to get around without one, but Nedra is a cycling advocate and she still manages to get around by bike.
- [Nedra] It's more pleasant.
I feel like I'm a part of a place.
I understand it versus if I was in a vehicle.
- [Narrator] For most Atlantans though, the car remains king, but it wasn't always that way.
- [Nedra] I am from here.
So I'm well aware of all the neighborhoods that are bisected and have been destroyed either by highways or stadiums, that really has destroyed communities.
It destroyed the social cohesion, the fabric of culture, the continuity of even what your eye looks at.
- [Narrator] In the 50s and 60s, the connector between the I-75 and I-85 gutted dense, mostly Black neighborhoods in Atlanta's urban core.
And the construction of I-20 deliberately separated Black and white communities.
But highways also encouraged sprawl by making it easier for people to move to the suburbs.
It's a story in cities across America.
And it's also one of the reasons Atlanta is one of the 10 most populated regions in the US, but the 316th in density.
Highways also changed the city streets because their design started to shape how streets looked.
And our friend from the YouTube channel, City Beautiful, is the perfect one to explain that.
Thanks, City Beautiful.
- [Dave] This is Northside Drive.
It runs through neighborhoods and shopping areas.
There are four lanes, two going both directions, no bike lane, and some spotty sidewalk coverage.
And here's Buford Highway, three lanes in each direction, no bike lanes, and really lame and dangerous bus stops.
These are classic car-first streets.
They're were designed according to the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials book, "The Geometric Design of Highways and Streets."
Mercifully, it's referred to simply as "The Green Book."
This book details how roadways should be designed recommending characteristics like lane widths, curb radii, and intersection geometry.
"The Green Book" gets updated fairly regularly.
And for a long time, this was a manual about how to apply highway design principles to city streets.
It's right there in the title, "Highways" come first.
For example, in the 2001 edition, "The Green Book" recommends lane widths of 11 feet as the standard, with no discussion of the relationship between lane width and speeding.
Wide lanes make it comfortable for drivers to go fast, faster speeds mean more deaths.
Most pedestrians can survive a collision with a car going 20 miles per hour, but if a car is going 40 miles an hour, your chance of severe injury is 90%.
And your chance of death is basically a coin flip.
This is just one example of the influence "The Green Book" has had on city streets.
These policies have resulted in rural highway thinking applied to urban areas.
Pedestrians are seen as obstacles to the free flow of traffic, the primary goal of traffic engineers in the past and not so distant past.
Any accommodations for pedestrians are seen as an exception, not the rule.
That's why streets like Northside Drive and Buford Highway have incomplete sidewalk networks, missing crosswalks, and dangerous right-turn slip lanes.
- [Nedra] It's designed for speed, it's not designed for a neighborhood.
So the design fails the people who live there.
- [Narrator] For example, let's say you live here, and work here.
The closest crosswalk is 0.3 miles down the road, making your total commute more than half a mile.
Unless you're some kind of huge rule follower, you're going to cross here, but the speed limit is 35 miles per hour making your short walk potentially deadly.
Car-first streets also have a more subtle impact.
They don't build community.
Fast speeds with no places to interact doesn't create pleasant places to chat with your neighbors.
- [Sonia] Something really that has stuck out to me in this job is streets are actually, our biggest resource of public space.
Anything that is owned by the city and owned by its citizens, those are your streets.
- [Narrator] Sonia works for the city on re-imagining what public streets could be if we design them for more than just cars.
- [Sonia] Our tagline is "Designing an Atlanta that Atlantans can fall in love with."
It is experiencing the city, its identity, its history.
Whatever walk of life you're in, in Atlanta, that public space should be for you.
- [Narrator] Atlanta's highways and streets aren't going anywhere anytime soon, but Atlanta city planners are hoping to claw back at least one street from the dictatorship of cars.
- [Sonia] So this is a demonstration project on Peachtree Street, and it's really to test what it looks like to have a public space in Atlanta designed for people.
Peachtree in the past has only really been about moving cars.
And so we were looking at this concept of what if we increased the sidewalk space, just had more room for people.
Recognizing some of our past mistakes, especially how highways have come through and erased entire communities, I think a lot of our projects are acknowledging that and trying to correct for them, but it's a long path.
- [Narrator] Volunteers with the city made a few alterations to Peachtree to make it safer for all users.
The biggest alteration, taking a lane on either side of the road and giving that space back to pedestrians and bikers.
They created a buffer out of planters and extended the curbs on the streets so pedestrians had more space, and added another crosswalk.
Restaurants along the street can also install outdoor dining on parking spaces.
- [Sonia] Really, Atlanta is a blank slate to try a lot of new things, from neighborhood streets, safer streets, but even just inviting spaces where people can connect to each other, connect to place, and figuring out how do we heal some of our history.
We have a great opportunity right now.